In the summer of 1993, the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history took place on Vancouver Island’s West Coast. Approximately 12,000 people participated in blockades to save the old-growth forest at Clayoquot Sound in what became known as the “War in the Woods.”
The Sound, which is home to the Nuu-chah-nulth people, contains some of the last remaining ancient temperate rainforests. Many of these trees were seedlings centuries before Europeans settled in North America.
Tensions over logging in Clayoquot Sound had been simmering for years. Then in April 1993, the government of British Colombia announced that two-thirds of Clayoquot Sound would remain open for industrial logging being practiced by timbre giant MacMillan Bloedel.
In the months that followed, thousands of people flocked to the area to join the protests led by indeigenous leaders and supported by thousands of concerned citizens. Blockades were set up at a bridge over the Kennedy River denying access to logging trucks heading into Clayoquot Sound.
Macmillan Bloedel Ltd. obtained a court injunction prohibiting blockades, and the RCMP began charging violators with criminal contempt. Almost one thousand people were arrested during the three month protest with the peak date occurring on August 9, 1993, when 300 people were detained by police.
The arrests of youth and elders received national and international media attention from the likes of the New York Times and CNN. The protests were visited by international celebrities including environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr., and Australian rock group Midnight Oil.
By the time the protest camp was dismantled in October, more than 800 people had been arrested, including then-NDP MP Svend Robinson, who was given a 14-day sentence for criminal contempt of court.
In the end, environmentalists prevented the rainforest from being clear cut with Macmillan-Bloedel gradually extricating itself from Clayoquot Sound and turning over control of the tree farm licence to the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. In 2000, Clayoquat Sound was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve to recognize that it is a globally significant ecosystem.
The Clayoquat Sound blockades were a turning point for B.C.’s environmental movement and inspired a new generation of environmentalists who are now fighting an emotional battle against a pipeline expansion through the province.
Many of the people and groups who put Clayoquot Sound on the map are applying their knowledge and connections to the fight against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Some have called it the next War in the Woods.